HP Blasts Cisco With New SDN Campus Networking Switch

Hewlett-Packard Monday took direct aim at rival Cisco Systems with a new campus networking switch and a new software-defined networking Network Visualizer application.

HP claims that the new HP 5400R zl2 Switch Series v3 Modules, which are available starting May 1, provide more than 4.8 times better performance, 3.6 times lower latency with the ability to process up to 24 more times the packets than rival Cisco's Catalyst 4507RE. The new HP 5400R zl2 switches, which HP claims provide a 46 percent lower total cost of ownership than Cisco, are priced from $3,299 to $6,799.

The new Network Visualizer SDN application, which partners say opens the door to dramatic gains in troubleshooting and resolving network problems, is priced at $5,000 and will be available in June.

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The news of the upcoming products coincides with the start of the Cisco Partner Summit, which begins Monday in Montreal.

The stepped-up campus networking offensive comes nearly two months after HP agreed to acquire fast-growing wireless networking high-flyer Aruba Networks, a fierce Cisco competitor, for $3 billion. HP has said it expects the deal to be finalized in the second half of its fiscal year, which runs from May 1 to Oct. 31.

Even without the Aruba offerings, partners said they see the new 5400 switch and the stepped-up SDN offensive paying off in big sales gains vs. Cisco.

Matrix Integration, an HP and Cisco solution provider based in Jasper, Ind., expects to double its HP Networking business in 2015 based in large part on the launch of the HP 5400R zl2 switches and the HP SDN charge, said Chad Williams, vice president of research and education at Matrix, No. 338 on the CRN SP500.

Williams said that in 90 percent of Matrix's networking engagements customers are looking for SDN functionality, which gives HP a decided edge over Cisco. "HP is allowing customers to optimize and manage the network much better, much quicker and much more customizable to their needs," he said.

In that regard, the Network Visualizer application is a breakthrough in providing network visibility "simply, quickly and easily," said Williams.

The HP Networking solution is beating Cisco in five times as many deals vs. three to five years ago based on both HP's SDN features and the dramatic difference in the total cost of ownership of HP vs. Cisco, said Williams.

The HP price performance advantage, namely a 40 percent lower cost vs. Cisco with performance on par or better ,is also having a big impact in the sales trenches, said Williams.

"Looking at performance per dollar, HP every time blows Cisco away," he said. "A lot of customers today for a lack of a better word are getting tired of being wrapped into a proprietary scenario. Customers want to move more to an open scenario which allows them 90 percent more flexibility."

In the past six months, Matrix has won two $10 million-plus large-scale higher-education campus rollouts with the HP 5406r switches that came in at 40 percent below the cost of the Cisco solution over a five-year total cost of ownership basis, said Williams.

Those deals offer those higher-education customers huge cost savings with regard to the annual Cisco SmartNet maintenance fee, said Williams. HP's networking switches, in contrast, come with lifetime warranties that do not require annual maintenance contracts. "Customers get tired of the annual maintenance," he said. "If you have hundreds of switches across the edge of your network, the maintenance alone can be $1 million or more just to support from a SmartNet perspective."

Mike Linton, vice president of sales for VLCM, an HP Platinum partner that is No. 231 on the CRN SP500, said he sees the HP SDN capabilities driving growing opportunities for channel partners. "The HP networking wave is growing," he said. "It is a compelling story against the competition. With the 5400 we are going to be able to grow our business substantially."

As for the Network Visualizer, Linton said that application will provide dramatic cost and time savings for network administrators. "The time to resolution and the granular visibility across the network without the overhead of a probe on every [network] device is revolutionary," he said. The Network Visualizer has the potential to provide automated problem resolution as the market develops, said Linton.

The HP networking charge comes after the company posted an 11 percent drop in networking sales in the most recent quarter. Cisco, meanwhile, reported 11 percent sales growth in the most recent quarter in its switching business fueled by strong sales of its Nexus 9000 and Nexus 3000 switches.

What's more, Cisco held a 61 percent share of the Layer 2/ Layer 3 Ethernet switching market in the fourth quarter of 2014 compared with HP's 9.5 percent share, according to market researcher IDC.

Mark Thompson, director, Global Product Line Management, HP Networking, said the HP 5400R is the first product shipping to deliver 1-GbE, 2.5-GbE and 5-GbE functionality for high-speed 802.11ac Wave 2 access points. The big "opportunity" for VARs, he said, is to bring those new high speeds to customers demanding faster and faster wireless performance. "Customers now have the ability to shift up to 2.5 GbE and 5 GbE without replacing their wiring," he said.

The sixth-generation ASIC that powers the HP 5400R provides the SDN programming capabilities and the advanced packet processing units that can be used to examine and change network bits and packets in SDN environments, said Thompson. "We are just seeing companies starting to adopt SDN applications," he said. "This platform gives customers the headroom to truly be creative and figure out what they want the network to do based on an application."

As for the SDN battle with Cisco, Thompson claimed the 5400R provides "stuff Cisco frankly doesn't have in their portfolio today." "While Cisco is the other networking vendor today that still does some of their own custom ASIC work, they haven't used that capability to really extend the software definability and application programmability of the infrastructure."